Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery moved forward with second-degree murder charges today against a Mesa police officer for killing a suspect without justification.
Philip Mitchell Brailsford, 25, shot and killed Daniel Shaver, 26, of Nashville on January 18 after police were called to a Mesa motel following a report of someone pointing a rifle out of a window.
Brailsford, who'd been on the force for less than three years, was one of several cops who took up a position outside Shaver's fifth-floor motel room. When Shaver and a woman exited the room, police ordered them to crawl toward them on their hands and knees. The woman did so without incident. But as Shaver was crawling, he made a move toward his waistband, according to the County Attorney's Office. Brailsford fired five times, killing him instantly.
Two pellet guns were found in the room that Shaver used sometimes for his pest-control business. In recent weeks, Shaver's family lobbied authorities and the media to investigate the incident fully.
Mesa police finished their investigation on February 9 and turned over findings to the prosecutor's office.
"After carefully reviewing the relevant facts and circumstances, we have determined that the use of deadly physical force was not justified in this instance,” Montgomery said in a written statement.
Brailsford was charged with one count of second-degree murder.
"This office will prosecute this case with the same degree of professionalism as we do any other, recognizing the due process rights of the defendant, the rights of the victim, and the victim’s family in pursuit of a just result for all,” Montgomery said.
One thing was different, though: Murder suspects usually are arrested. Montgomery's office allowed Brailsford to avoid a "perp walk" that would have included getting booked into jail and Brailsford's mug shot on the Sheriff's Office website. Instead, Brailsford was issued a summons to appear in court on March 15.
The Mesa Police Department issued a generic statement about the charge, saying any questions must be directed to Montgomery's office.
"Our Department respects the criminal process and continues our full and complete cooperation with the
Maricopa County Attorney’s Office as this case moves forward through the judicial system," said the statement released by Sergeant Diana Williams.
The department said in a previous statement that Brailsford felt "threatened" when Shaver was crawling and had reached toward "his lower back where officers could not see his hands."
Body-cam video from the incident hasn't yet been released. Mesa police say it will be up to Montgomery's office to release the footage.
Montgomery's decision to charge the officer comes as concern about heavy-handed police violence remains high in the public consciousness. Community groups including the ACLU and Black Lives Matter have pressed police around the country to re-examine their use-of-force policies.
In October, Phoenix police released the results of a study conducted with Arizona State University showing that the department has some of the best policies in the country on the issue, but activists worry that police still use too much force.
A GoFundMe page for Shaver has collected more than $19,000 for his family.
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